Cesaro’s WWE Career – False Dawns & Missed Opportunities

Cesaro Claudio Castagnoli

The recent news of Claudio Castagnoli, better known to WWE fans as Cesaro’s departure from the company after almost ten years since his main roster debut was met with surprise and frustration by many.

A firm favourite to fans and fellow wrestlers alike during his tenure, his body of work in the ring and his popularity spoke for themselves.

“The Swiss Superman” more than held his own in the WWE landscape during the decade, with a unique look, move set and background, he always delivered on the hand in which he was dealt.

However, many fans were left frustrated as the hand that was often dealt to him was seen as mediocre at best. (Yodelling or James Bond, anyone?)

When given the ball, Cesaro would produce. It’s just unfortunate he wasn’t allowed to run with it for longer and for more often.

Indeed, the character never became stale in WWE unlike others, re-inventing himself when necessary and always maintaining his high level in the ring, as even recent UK tour matches against Walter would attest.

However, Cesaro’s legs were often cut off from beneath him before any serious momentum could be gathered. Ultimately, the higher ups in WWE did not seem to see what almost all of his colleagues and fans did and still do, a supreme athlete with unlimited potential. A can’t miss prospect.

While everyone seemed to clamour for a World Title run for the Swiss Superman, sadly, it never happened.

Being named most underrated wrestler for four straight years 2013-2016 by The Wrestling Observer Newsletter tells its own tale. Ultimately Vince McMahon and his team didn’t, to quote the Attitude Era slogan, “get it” when it came to the man from Lucerne.

Here we look at some of Cesaro’s false dawns and squandered opportunities during his tenure with the company and reflect back on what might have and probably should have been.

False Dawn: Cesaro Wins The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal At WrestleMania 30

Cesaro became the first winner of the now annual slugfest, at a time when it had the potential to mean something, during the brilliant WrestleMania 30 in 2014.

A surprise entrant at the time, as he had been teaming with Jack Swagger in The Real Americans tag-team, even competing on the pre-show tag team Fatal 4-Way, Cesaro impressively body slammed The Big Show over the top rope to a huge reaction from the WWE Universe on hand at The New Orleans Superdome to win the event and the Andre trophy.

He was set, had his own WrestleMania moment and based on the reaction of the fans, was off to the races as a new company face. Or was he? Power Slam magazine questioned WWE at the time in issue 235’s WrestleMania 30 article, “Will WWE go the distance with Cesaro this time?”

Endorsed by Hulk Hogan no less during the formal trophy presentation on the post WrestleMania Raw, Cesaro proceeded to dump then manager Zeb Colter and reveal himself to actually be a Paul Heyman guy. Face turn over then, before it had begun. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Being partnered with Heyman could only be a masterstroke. Or so we thought.

Missed Opportunity: Cesaro’s Relationship With Paul Heyman:

Instead of being pushed to the moon as the latest client of the master that is Paul Heyman, ‘The King of Swing’ was instead used as an excuse to keep Heyman on Television, whilst more prominent client Brock Lesnar took his regular sabbatical.

Heyman constantly reminding the public that Lesnar had ended The Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania, inadvertently faded Cesaro more and more into the background.

After a couple of promising PPV victories at Extreme Rules and Money In The Bank, losses began to build up, losing TV matches to Kofi Kingston, US Title challenges to Sheamus and being eliminated from an Intercontinental Title Battle Royal at Battleground by Heath Slater.

Just as quickly as it began, on July 21, Cesaro’s partnership with Heyman was over, as was the momentum he had instantly built after his Battle Royal win just weeks earlier.

False Dawn: John Cena’s Endorsement & The Cesaro Section

During a house show in Germany in 2013, John Cena grabbed the mic at the end of the night to thank the crowd for coming. He shared the ring with Cesaro that night, putting over the Swiss Superman as a future main eventer. Fast forward to RAW on July 6th 2015 and Cena clashing with Cesaro in a brilliant TV match up.

Once again, the face of the company was vocal, heaping praise on Cesaro after the match, whilst doing everything he could during it to showcase his opponent’s skills and talent – not something you could always say about Cena due to his once invincible character.

A push looked imminent, or certainly a top program with ‘Big Match John’. Unfortunately neither happened.

The WWE Universe have always bought into Cesaro. During 2014, large sections of the crowd began to hold up ‘Cesaro Section’ signs throughout the show, campaigning for The ‘King of Swing’ to get a sustained push and showing their support. By the time of his face turn in 2015, the signage had once again found momentum with masses of signs visible in the crowds.

The section was built into rivalries, with commentators referencing the signs and popularity of the Superstar on TV. Feeling like another organic public momentum push from the WWE Universe, similar to that of Daniel Bryan months earlier, it wasn’t capitalised on.

Missed Opportunity: A Lack Of Singles Titles

Remarkably, Cesaro only held one major singles title during his decade in the WWE, and that was way back in 2012!

He won the United States championship by pinning Santino Marella during the SummerSlam Kickoff.

Even though his gimmick at the time was, admittedly, that of midcard fodder – speaking five different languages during promos and being accompanied by Aksana – his title win appeared to keep him on the right track.

His reign lasted 240 days, the longest of the past four years, but unbelievably, he would never hold a singles title again. To think he never had a chance with the traditional workhorse Intercontinental Title is baffling. Cesaro could have helped the belt in as much as the title’s history could have helped him.

When you consider the other Superstars who have held multiple singles titles during this time period and the fact that singles titles change hands as frequently as they do, it’s surprising that Cesaro was not used more as a major singles player.

Missed Opportunity: An Underwhelming ‘The Bar’ Split:

Across the decade, Cesaro is a seven-time Tag Team Champion having tasted gold with Tyson Kidd in a great team that was sadly prematurely ended due to Kidd’s career ending injury, Shinsuke Nakamura and most notably Sheamus.

Initially a throw-together pairing of warring enemies on screen, but real life friends off it, ‘The Bar’, Sheamus and Cesaro quickly established themselves as more than tag team contenders. They matched well against The Hardy Boyz, Usos and New Day and won four Raw Tag Titles and one on SmackDown.

Dressing alike, with a catchy tag team name and catchphrase, “We don’t just set the bar, we are the bar!” the team got itself over.

After feuding in 2014 over the US Title, it seemed inevitable that we would see a feud between the two once the tag team reached its natural conclusion. Only we didn’t. A concussion suffered by Sheamus on the post WrestleMania 35 Smackdown and the drafting of Cesaro weeks later, meant that the team was disbanded with a whimper. Now on different brands, the pair rarely crossed paths.

Cesaro found himself in a very similar role on Smackdown, now teaming with Nakamura with little chance of upwards trajectory.

Missed Opportunity: The Vince McMahon Opinion

Perhaps the most inadvertent false dawn and missed opportunity on this list. As the owner and Head of the WWE, Vince’s opinion on talent matters most, however he doesn’t often broadcast his opinions on wrestlers in public.

Not the case with Cesaro. During an extraordinary interview on Steve Austin’s WWE podcast broadcast on the WWE Network, Vince McMahon was asked what he thought of Cesaro and how he could get to the next level.

Vince’s honest response included that Cesaro was “Not connecting yet, doesn’t have the charisma, verbal skills, maybe because he’s Swiss – his European Style”. He later went on to say, “I don’t know, He lacks ‘it’ ”


Was this a ploy to kick start a feud between Cesaro and Vince and The Authority? It seemed unnecessarily harsh on the Swiss Cyborg if it wasn’t potentially going to lead somewhere.

Alas, nothing came of it, a great opportunity for Cesaro to fire back at Vince and The Authority, on screen and off. Irreparable damage had been caused needlessly to Cesaro though. Everyone knew exactly what Vince McMahon now thought of him.

False Dawn: WrestleMania Backlash Main Event

His in-ring work was never in question, so it was of no surprise, from a wrestling point of view, that Cesaro had a good match at WrestleMania 37 against Seth Rollins. What came as some surprise, was the clean nature of his victory over The Architect, which set him on the road to a WrestleMania Backlash main event with Universal champion Roman Reigns.

A 27 and a half minute Thunderdome era scorcher, Reigns and Cesaro went back and forth, with Reigns targeting Cesaro’s right arm throughout the match, preventing his usual arsenal of uppercuts and forearms, eventually leading to Cesaro passing out to the Guillotine choke.

Once again, even in defeat, Cesaro had hung with WWE’s top dog and added to Reigns impressive PPV – not Premium Live Event just yet – tally for the year.

However an attack from old rival Rollins ended his main event run to one and done and after falling to a roll up by Rollins at June’s Hell in a Cell, a familiar slide down the card began once again.

His last few months were spent more often than not in tag teams, with him even losing the WWE Day 1, pre show match when he teamed with Ricochet, in defeat by Sheamus. Effectively a handicap match, Sheamus wrestled the majority of the match solo after partner Ridge Holland had been injured early on.

The Future

As the news of his departure from WWE broke, unable to reach an agreement on a new contract, several high profile Superstars expressed their disappointment that Cesaro had left the company.

John Cena posted a picture of Cesaro captioned ‘Stone Cold Cesaro’ in support on his Instagram whilst WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley called Cesaro “one of the greatest workers of his generation” on Twitter.

At 41 a seasoned veteran and in incredible shape the wrestler now formerly known as Cesaro still has a chance to reach the top of the wrestling world and become a world champion.

His strong European technical style, which set him apart from others in WWE, (yet was often seen as a hindrance internally), will be seen as a huge asset elsewhere.

Already popular and well known amongst fans and fellow wrestlers alike, could AEW be his preferred destination, like Bryan Danielson before him?

On paper it looks a good fit and would allow him potentially more freedom in the ring to deliver hard hitting matches (similar to what we have seen with Danielson). His technical masterclasses from earlier in his career across Europe and during his ROH run could be about to return.

Can that take him to the next level?

Where ever he reappears, this is not the last we have heard from Claudio Castagnoli.

As for WWE, this might be another case of you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.